On a third of the planet’s farmland, pesticide levels are 1,000 times higher than what is considered safe
Nearly a third of the world’s arable land is at high risk of pesticide pollution, according to a new report.
Scientists in Australia examined how nearly 100 agrochemicals in 168 countries were used to determine which pesticides exceeded recommended levels.
Referring to “ widespread global risk of pesticide pollution, ” the study found that 64 percent of farmland contained higher levels of pesticide chemicals than what industry standards consider “ no-effect concentrations. ”
A third were considered risky, with pesticide levels more than 1000 times higher than no-effect concentrations.
That includes more than 60 percent of Europe’s agricultural land, which is treated with dangerous levels of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
Researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the farmland was at risk from pesticide contamination, and a third was at ‘high risk’, with the use of chemicals considered harmless more than 1,000 times.
Researchers at the University of Sydney have developed a model to estimate the environmental pollution risk posed by 92 chemical compounds – 59 herbicides, 21 insecticides and 19 fungicides – in 168 countries.
They estimate usage based on the latest data from the United States Geological Survey and country-specific data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
“The higher the risk score, the more likely a non-target species will experience an effect,” chemist Fiona Tang, lead author of a new report published in Nature Geoscience, told AFP.
Tang’s team found that a total of 64 percent of the world’s arable land, or about 9.4 million square miles, contained higher levels of at least one active ingredient than recommended.
Asia had the most land at risk – 1.9 million square miles – with China accounting for more than half – while the high levels of contamination in Russia, Ukraine and Spain meant that more than 60 percent of European farmland was at high risk of pesticide contamination.
Thirty-one percent were considered “high risk,” or had more than 1,000 times the level of pesticide residues, which is considered harmless.
Asia had the greatest risk – 1.9 million square miles – with China at more than half.
Increased levels of contamination in Russia, Ukraine and Spain have meant that more than 60 percent of European agricultural land is at high risk of pesticide pollution.
“The potential pollution is widespread,” said Tang.
The report focused on watersheds in South Africa, China, India, Australia and Argentina as regions of high concern “because they are at high risk of pesticide pollution, have high biodiversity and suffer from water scarcity,” the report said.
Direct contact with pesticides can cause irritation, rashes, nausea, dizziness and diarrhea, while exposure to residues in food products has been associated with a wide variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, lymphoma and asthma.
There are several reasons why regions are focal points for agricultural pesticides, AFP reported, including overuse or use of highly toxic varieties.
Cold temperatures can slow their decomposition, while heavy rainfall can lead to high levels of runoff polluting waterways.
As the demand for crops has soared, the use of commercial pesticides has increased exponentially to meet it, and Tang’s report builds on a growing body of research into the impact of this chemical.
A study published in August found that pesticides and fertilizers had overtaken fossil fuels as the largest human source of sulfur, a major component of acid rain.
It used to come primarily from coal-fired power plants, but experts at the University of Colorado found that the increasing use of sulfur in agriculture has a similar effect, even hundreds of miles from industrial centers.
Going green alone may not be enough: According to a report this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, pesticides can continue to affect the environment long after their use has stopped.
Researchers in Switzerland found residue from herbicides and fungicides in the soil of farms that became organic more than 20 years ago.